Survivors' post traumatic stress syndrome/suicides

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
1,002
0
0
It strikes me that a fair number of survivors of the Titanic's sinking committed suicide, in years later. Other surivors seemed to have developed a psychosis about it. I've read accounts of several survivors who never talked about the Titanic for the rest of their lives (persons, in addition to, B. Ismay). I can think, offhand, of three who committed suicide, Frederick Fleet, Jack Thayer, and Washington Dodge. Does anyone know of others? Do you think that the suicides are related to the Titanic tragedy in any way? Does anyone have any thoughts on the effect that the tragedy had on survivors mental health in later years?
 

Lou Kerr

Member
Feb 6, 2010
49
0
36
Hi Joe, I've been struck by this too. Two more passengers that committed suidide according to their information on this site are Dr. Henry Frauenthal and a third class male passenger who was living in Detroit (sorry I can't remember his name) who killed himself in 1951 after his wife divorced him. I've also read elsewhere that Madeline Astor took her own life and I've read on here that she didn't.
 
C

Chris Daino (Chris)

Guest
According to Titanic: Women & CHildren first, Madeline Astor had a heart condition to which she succumbed.

Jack Thayer committed suicide in 1945, after his mother died. 33 years after the sinking.

Fredrick Fleet committed suicide at the age of 70 something and after his wife died. He was 26 when Titanic sank.

Thats a long time in between the sinking and the suicide.

Chris
 

Phillip Gowan

Member
Apr 10, 2001
1,128
1
166
To the best of my knowledge, only 7 survivors committed suicide--none directly related to their Titanic experience. There are claims that Dodge was murdered and Frauenthal accidentally fell, but I think the evidence weighs in for suicide--especially in the case of Dr. Dodge.

1. Dr. Washington Dodge--1919--gunshot wound to the head due to business and investment problems.
2. Dr. Henry William Frauenthal--1927--jumped from his apartment balcony after months of depression partially resulting from the mental illness of his wife.
3. Johan (John) Niskanen--1927--gunshot wound to head and burns after he set his cabin on fire--depression over failure to strike gold on his property in California.
4. Jack Thayer--1945--throat slit with razor due to depression over the loss of his son, Edward Cassatt Thayer, during World War II.
5. John Morgan Davis--1951--ingested poison during the Christmas holidays after his wife left him.
6. Phyllis May Quick--1954--gunshot wound to the head allegedly due to marital problems.
7. Frederick Fleet--1965--hung himself on a clothesline--due to depression following the death of his wife Eva and being evicted from his home by her brother.

There is also a possibility that gambler George Brayton committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train in Calexico, California in 1920. I haven't been able to prove that that George Brayton is the same man on Titanic.

Madeleine Astor's cause of death was more likely an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
1,002
0
0
Gentlemen: Thank you for the excellent feedback. I think that question remains, however, whether the Titanic tragedy contributed to these deaths? And to what degree? Certainly, there were immediate, unrelated triggering events to the suicides: Thayer's son's death, the loss of Fleet's wife. Additionally, there were many years between the Titanic's sinking, and these suicides. But, I think, this is precisely how mental illness works. For example, in Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde" (which is really a story about mental illness, not monsters), toward the very end Dr. Jeykll explains that "I did not know that the doom and burden of man's life is forever on his shoulders, and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns with more awful pressure." A tragedy revives itself, and its victims relive it, year after year. It probably only gets worse. I believe that despite the remoteness in time between the Titanic event and the suicides of Thayer, Fleet, or the others, the Titanic tragedy could have made these persons, progressively less able to cope, and more vulnerable or "thin-skulled" as the proverbial saying goes. Thus, over the years, the Titanic tragedy killed off more people than the 1,526 on the night of April 14-15, 1912. It killed people for many more years after that.
 

Mike Herbold

Member
Feb 13, 2001
1,007
2
168
Philip: I'm interested in what you said about Brayton possibly committing suicide. I'd like to hear more about that. You mentioned it might not be the same Brayton. For one thing it's not clear that his name was Brayton. It could have been Bradley as listed on the ET website. In Kenneth Schultz's Catalog Sixty Five, Item 575, a great niece claims his name was Brereton. Please give more details on the 1920 incident in Calexico, California.
 

Mike Herbold

Member
Feb 13, 2001
1,007
2
168
Chris: I don't know what the average number of suicides would be in any given group of 700 people during their lifetime, but 7 seems a bit high.
 
A

Arthur Merchant (Arthur)

Guest
In addition to considering the survivor suicides among the Titanic's ultimate toll, one must also consider those whose lives were shortened by the disaster, in particular those w/ pre-existing health problems.

According to the bios, relatives of Alexander Holverson's widow believed the sinking contributed to her early death. There is also Charlotte Collyer, who was consumptive (?) I believe. After losing her husband during the trip to America which was mainly to improve her health, she succumbed less than two years after the sinking. There are many instances such as these, where the Titanic could be considered a contributory factor to the premature end of some survivors, just as much as those who took their own lives.

The pattern of the suicides being almost exclusively male survivors, is mostly a statement of society at that time.

But ultimately it probably comes down to each individual's ability to handle trauma as there are cases of survivor's continuing to thrive despite further tragedies. Mrs. Henry B Harris by all accounts always maintained an upbeat attitude despite first losing her husband than most of her money and living in reduced circumstances for the rest of her life. Jennie Hanson, despite being described as in frail health at the time she lost her husband and his brother, remarried and lived 40 more years.
 
E

Emily DeFilipps (Emily)

Guest
The mental health of survivors of the disaster is an interesting subject. I have been researching a couple from Rochester NY who survived- Ethel and Edward Beane. Mr. Beane never allowed any discussion of the Titanic in his presence while he was alive. He died at a relatively early age in a local state mental hospital. I think men who survived may have had an especially hard time
dealing with it.
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
1,002
0
0
Here's an excerpt from a 1998 newspaper article about Johan Svensson, also known as "Titanic Johnson," who survived the sinking. I think it reinforces the point that the pain of the tragedy became more aggravated as years went by - - possibly explaining the psychosis of some survivors, and the many suicides among others:

"His daughter, Joy Johnson, suspects that the voices screaming from the icy waters of the Atlantic, begging to be saved, haunted him until his death in 1981. As he got older, it just seemed to come back more vividly to him., Joy Johnson says. He had nightmares all the time, it was really tragic. He always asked me, "Why was I saved when so many others were lost".
 

Mike Herbold

Member
Feb 13, 2001
1,007
2
168
Joe:
Since 6 of the 7 Titanic suicides were male and most of the 700plus survivors were female, the suicide rate seems even more astounding. Came across another passenger much affected by the tragedy == Abraham Lincoln Salomon.
Regards, Mike
 

Jan C. Nielsen

Senior Member
Dec 12, 1999
1,002
0
0
I have a new passenger to add to the subject matter of this conversation: Robert Daniel. After the Titanic disaster, he suffered through three marriages, cirrhosis of the liver, and died at the age of 56.
 
P

Pamela Pitts

Guest
I'm kinda new at this but I am doing a research paper on the Titanic and needed to know if Murdoch really shot himself like he did in the Titanic movie?
 
T

Tracey McIntire

Guest
Dear Pamela,
It will never be known for sure if it was Murdoch who killed himself, but the eyewitness accounts of an officer committing suicide do tend to support the fact that SOMEONE did. The other "candidates" for suicide include Chief Officer Henry Wilde and Captain Smith. I tend to think it was Murdoch though. If you would like to have a more in-depth discussion of this, please feel free to e-mail me at traceym@peta-online.org.
Sincerely, Tracey
 
R

Rachel Boland

Guest
It probably wasn't Capt. Smith. I read in one of the many books that some of the crew who were on Collapsible B said that a man swam by and said something like "Good Lads" and they recognized his voice as that of the Capt. When they tried to get an oar to him, he didn't take it. This was more than likely Capt. Smith.

I think he was also too proud of a man to take his own life. Murdoch was ranking officer on the bridge at the time, so he would have had the most guilt. I think it was him.
 
Apr 25, 2001
293
0
146
Rachel, Tracy; one must bear in mind that very few people actually claimed to having seen a person shooting himself. Rather, they said that 'someone told me....' or something to that effect. I am not entirely convinced that this happened (and I don't believe anyone was shot, either). If someone did shoot himself, it cannot have been Murdoch, who, according to second officer Lightoller, was working with boat A up to the very last moment (and this goes for sixth officer Moody as well). Nobody really saw much of Captain Smith during the last minutes - or during the whole sinking, for that matter - I don't think he was swimming around in the water at all. Some researchers believe he had some sort of a nervous breakdown and did nothing at all that night. He was perhaps sighted at boat 8 around one o'clock, but after that?? If there was some sort of a suicide (and I don't believe there was), it sounds a lot like Wilde to me.

Peter
 
T

Tracey McIntire

Guest
Dear Peter--Actually there are over 20 eyewitness reports of an officer committing suicide. Some name the officer, but most say "an officer" or "the chief officer." We can't automatically assume they mean Wilde when they say "chief" because many did not know the officers by name or often confused Murdoch and Wilde (Murdoch was Chief Officer before Wilde was transferred from Olympic). Lightoller's account can not be relied on either as he was clearly eager to whitewash the whole incident, even to writing Murdoch's wife and telling her he "died like a man." Later in life Lightoller did admit to knowing of someone who committed suicide, but would not specify a name. Check out George Behe's web site--there is a link from this site. He has an excellent essay on the Murdoch incident. If you would like to discuss this in more depth, please feel free to e-mail me at traceym@peta-online.org. Thanks!
 
C

Cindy H

Guest
About suicide and Titanic... I'm on the side that Titanic is a major cause. Granted, Chris Daino (his post is above) points out that there is a "long time" between the sinking and the deaths... this is irrelevant. Research on post traumatic stress syndrome indicate that time does NOT heal all wounds but instead can fuel the fire. I do believe that the emotional impact of the sinking was a major factor in the mental stability of the surviving suicidal passengers.
 
M

Mariano Sana

Guest
The issue of Titanic-related suicide is interesting. On top of the arguments given in previous messages I'd like to advance my hypothesis as for why suicide was much more common among male survivors. Notice that suicide rates among males are always higher than among women, but in this case they are way too higher.

Let's divide male survivors in three categories:

1) Those who saved themselves by jumping in a boat or by getting a boat seat with some trick or fooling an officer. "Women and children first" was the dominant principle at the moment, and it ruled the loading of the boats. Men who survived this way might have felt that they violated this principle, given that many women died. These male survivors would have been labeled as "cowards" for using boat seats (at least by their own guilty consciences). They would have carried along this shame all through the rest of their lives, with its consequences on their mental health.

2) Those who "fought" for their lives: men who were rescued from the water (or from the overturned collapsible). I ignore if there were women rescued from the water but I'm sure the vast majority of these people were men. The trauma of having fought for life in the frozen water that night must have been in their minds for life. They were the closest ones to the desperate screams of the last ones dying in the water. Those in the collapsible must have survived by denying access to the collapsible to other people. I think there is good reason for trauma among these people as well, although they would not be suspected of cowardice.

3) Those who were saved by being assigned to a boat or allowed into a boat by an officer. These men did not fall in the water. Many (most?) of them were allowed into boats in order to row, which legitimized their inclusion, benefitting them with a clear conscience over the years.

If we turn to women, we see that virtually all of them are in category 3. If my reasoning is correct, those men who took their lives should be in categories 1 or 2 rather than 3... does anyone want to check? (remember that most of those in category 1 surely lied in their accounts to be in category 3 to the public eye).

I could add some subtleties, like assuming that those who loaded the first boats (a vast majority of women) should have been less affected as some of them didn't really experience the fear of dying (I guess many weren't sure of what was going on) and their boats soon took distance from the sinking ship.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ellana